OCCUPY CENTRAL, HK – Day 74: Full coverage of the police operation to clear the remaining Occupy sites
Good evening and welcome to scmp.com’s live coverage of the police operation to clear the remaining Occupy sites, after 74 days of protest. The clearance operation has started and police have warned of imminent arrests.
7.40pm: During the arrests of protesters, Federation of Students secretary general Alex Chow Yong-Kang said the Occupy movement might come to an end after the clearance, but he expected a “second wave of occupation” in the coming months.
“I would not say we are retreating in a splendid manner today or that the movement is ending with victory, but I don’t think we have failed either,” he said. “[Occupy] may come to an end temporarily, but the second half will be coming in the next half-year.”
Chow said he was expecting to face at least six counts of charges, such as unlawful assembly and incitement.
Chow said the student group would welcome further dialogue with the administration, but he urged the government to respond with a clear roadmap and time table towards genuine universal suffrage.
7.30pm: Harcourt Road is now a flurry of cleaning as grapple trucks claw away at piles of collapsed tents, wooden furniture, bamboo poles, metal fences and banners.
Most of the thouroughfare has been cleared of major obstacles except for pockets of areas where protesters are digging their heels in.
Lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung and district councillor Yum Kwok-tung sat under a tent, surrounded by mounds of rubbish, waiting to get arrested.
Yum, who had been here since 4pm after being chased out of the now-demolished study area, said: “I’d like to see them arrest me, but I want to know their reasons for doing so.”
Cheung, who was keeping Yum company, was relieved there was no bloodshed.
“We achieved our biggest goal [of non-violence] for this clearance. Of course the whole clearance is a regrettable affair, but at least there was no violence so far from what I’ve seen,” said Cheung. “I believe we will regroup.”
Soon after Cheung talked to reporters, police brought him to a coach carrying protesters waiting to be transferred to the police station.
7.10pm: A government spokesman said formerly occupied sites in Admiralty and the edge of Central would be reopened to traffic as soon as possible. “This is what the general public in Hong Kong would like to see.”
He said the clearance operation was “being conducted smoothly” and urged people not to re-occupy the streets.
“The police enforcement action has been both professional and restrained in restoring public order and protecting citizens’ rights to use the roads. … The public should abide by the law when expressing their views. Doing so by illegal means should not and could not be accepted by the society and the government will deal with it in accordance with the law,” he said.
6.50pm: The Occupy movement in Hong Kong remains a flashpoint between British lawmakers and Beijing. Prime Minister David Cameron has been urged to summon the Chinese ambassador over China’s move to ban several MPs from visiting Hong Kong.
Beijing has said the ban was imposed because the British delegation’s visit might give pro-democracy protesters the wrong impression.
The MPs were part of a committee that launched the inquiry in July to examine Britain’s relations with Hong Kong 30 years after signing the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
6.35pm: Here is a useful map on where the clearance operation is focused:
6.20pm: IPCC observers and lawmakers Lam Tai-Fai and Helena Wong Pik-wan say so far both protesters and police have acted with restraint and the clearance was peaceful.
“[We saw] no clashes, not even verbal arguments between police and protesters,” Lam said. “Overall, it is peaceful and [all have been] restrained, we are glad to see the way it ends.”
Wong, who with Lam has been in Admiralty non-stop since 8am today, said she felt enough time was given to Occupy protesters to pack up and go. Three other IPCC members joined them today.
6.15pm: Government cleaners start to clear Harcourt Road, but the small garden outside the former Lennon Wall remains untouched.
About 10 trucks are deployed to clear the barricades and tents on the road.
Outside Legco, protesters have voluntarily taken down the tents. No police operation has been carried out there today, the protesters said. Several staff of the Legco secretariat were seen in discussions with protesters.
Terry Chick, an Occupy supporter, said they have reached an agreement with the secretariat to spare a path for vehicles in the area by noon on Saturday, while the tents would remain inside the designated protest zone.
Nearby, on Tamar Street, about 200 protesters were gathered as of 5pm, prompting police to issue warnings they could move to disperse or arrest the crowd.
6pm: The arrests continue, with radical lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung dragged away screaming “We will be back, democracy will win.”
Uncle Wong, in his 80s, a beloved figure at the protests for being among the oldest to participate, was wheeled away by police. He repeatedly chanted “I want genuine universal suffrage”.
5.45pm: The iconic and colourful Lennon Wall, plastered with drawings and messages about the Occupy movement, is no more.
Before the police cleared it out, the Lennon Wall, named after a Beatle, had been an outdoor gallery of Post-it stickers of solidarity messages by the side of the government HQ. It was one of the most recognisable street art from the months-long Occupy protests.
Last night, Lennon Wall volunteers collected as many Post-its as they couldin a race to preserve history. They also took photos of each item – 13GB in all – for uploading on a website.
5.30pm: Next Media chairman Jimmy Lai, one of the earliest supporters of the pro-democracy protests, is arrested along with Civic Party boss Audrey Eu Yuet-mee.
The series of arrests feel perfunctory, with the remaining crowd cheering in encouragement as their fellow protesters are arrested. When their turn came, Civic Party member Claudia Mo and Democratic Party founding chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming looked unperturbed and relaxed as they were escorted to a police vehicle.
Others left on a defiant note, leading chants about suffrage and not giving up, while lawmaker Emily Lau raised a fist in the air as she was arrested.
Lee, Eu and the Civic Party’s Alan Leong Kah-kit (also arrested) are all ex-heads of the Hong Kong Bar Association.
5.17pm: Throngs of people leaving the cordoned zone via exit routes along Tim Mei Avenue said police were wordlessly noting down their Hong Kong ID numbers, but did not say if they woud face any charges. Police had given a 2pm deadline for the people to leave.
“The more the people [who have their HKID numbers recorded by police], the safer everyone is,” said a reporter turned freelance translator surnamed Chan, adding that police would have difficulty arresting this many people. “That may sound naive but that’s what I believe.”
Young Occupy supporters said it was worth it to stay past the deadline. “How can we allow ourselves to leave if the cops beat our friends up?” an Occupy supporter surnamed Yip said.
However, some middle-aged people in the crowd said they were unaware they needed to show their IDs. A foreigner complained that the announcements were only made in Cantonese.
Others also expressed confusion, saying they did not hear the police announcements and heard that only those who sat near Tim Wa Avenue would be arrested.
5pm: Small-business owners are heaving a sigh of relief over the clearance of Occupy’s Admiralty site. They say their businesses have taken a massive hit since the protests started and are looking forward to normal client numbers again.
4.47pm: Singer Denise Ho has just been hauled away by the officers. She joined the sit-in this morning expecting to be arrested, but said it was “part of her responsibility as an adult of celebrity” to show support to the civil disobedience movement.
As Ho was sitting on the pavement, policewomen read out her rights. Ho led the crowd in chanting, “Civil disobedience, we are fearless!”
The singer refused to be lifted by police like the others arrested, and the crowd cheered as she walked, standing tall, to a police car with two officers.
Four members of the Hong Kong Federation of Students have also been arrested, including Ivan Law, Lily Lai, Mio Chan and Christine Leung, according to the group’s official Twitter page.
4.35pm: While the arrests are happening on Harcourt Road, demolition teams are nearly done clearing out key areas of the protest zone.
The self-study area – used for late-night cram sessions and homework by protesters and office workers, and where volunteers put up “do not disturb” signs – is now completely gone. Trash is accumulating on the street, and the two trucks with cranes are picking up the pieces.
Tents and various makeshift “resource centres” turn into a pile of debris.
With sledgehammers, bolt cutters and chainsaws, the officers tore into a supply station and former workshop protected by a big yellow umbrella.
4.20pm: The first protester has just been arrested shortly after officers formed a human chain and advanced towards the sit-in area, where 100 people remain.
TV footage showed a young woman being escorted away by female police officers. She was lifted off her feet and carried to a police van.
Officers then pluck people away, one by one, as a crush of journalists surround them. The protesters who are taken away show little resistance.
4pm: Police issue their “final warning” for protesters to leave or risk getting dragged away.
“Attention, protesters gathering on the intersection of Harcourt Road and Tim Wa Avenue: police have given you warnings repeatedly. This is our last warning. If you do not leave immediately, you will be arrested and carried away,” an officer said through a loudspeaker.
Lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung scoffs and says mockingly: “Last warning for Leung Chun-ying to appear.”
Among those who are holding a sit-in in the dying minutes are media businessman Jimmy Lai and Democratic Party founder Martin Lee.
3.35pm: Even as officers crumple up tents all around him in what had been “Umbrella Square”, Bai Xiao Tong insists he won’t budge.
Looking comfortable in his wood-framed abode, the unemployed 58-year-old said: “I’m not moving until they arrest me. They tell me to love China and Xi Jinping but I don’t. I’m not scared of the police. I will wait here.”
3.20pm: Competing battle cries fill the air at Tamar Street, where police are removing barricades. About 10 middle-aged or elderly men and women cheer and yell, “Support the police! Enforce the law!”
But crowds of protesters, who easily outnumber the group, boo and shout back, “I want true universal suffrage”.
Meanwhile, several groups of people have begun leaving the Occupy site, but refused to speak to reporters. They were told to ready their ID cards, which they must show police before they leave via a designated exit route.
2.55pm: Police are making slow progress and the sit-in protesters remain defiant. Among those who have refused to leave the cordoned off site are social workers Carol Leung and Gloria To.
“I am not afraid that the police will record my Hong King identity card information. If they have to pursue legal liability in the future, I would be really speechless,” said Leung, 27. “I am here because I want to stay till the very last moment. My parents are worried about me but they respect my decision.”
2.40pm: Global Times, the conservative Beijing paper which has remained highly critical of the Occupy movement, piled on more dire warnings in an editorial on today’s clearance operation.
“Hong Kong’s rule of law is going to be tested on Thursday,” said Global Times, an affiliate paper of the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily.
“Whether there is still some respect for law on the student’s side, how resolute the police are in their operation enforcing a court decision, and who the majority of citizens and media opinions would support if violence erupted – all of these would decide how Hong Kong starts anew in the ‘Post-Occupy’ era.
“Tomorrow’s Hong Kong will either nostalgise about the days of ‘Occupy’, or about the good times it once enjoyed as Asia’s financial centre. Of these two they can have only one,” the editorial said. “Hong Kong’s young people today are going to make a choice for their future generations.”
2.30pm: Artwork, tents, pallets and barriers are being removed by officers as they move along Harcourt Road, followed by a string of police vans.
“It’s going to take another hour at least before they get to me,” said Ben Lam, 23. He is reading a book on politics and governance and sitting on a chair in protest zone. “Might as well sit comfortably till they get here,” he adds.
Another police announcement informs occupiers that the entire Admiralty site has been sealed off. “We have already cordoned the area. No one can enter the cordoned area. Later on we will set up an exit route for you to leave,” an officer says through a megaphone.
2.20pm: Police are now on the move. Scores of officers are marching along Harcourt Road, while police vans are rolling towards the site. Officers are approaching the protesters from both sides, removing barriers as they go. Officers wearing gloves and helmets are clearing sections of the blocked road which the bailiffs left, as they were not covered by the court injunction.
Carrie Lam praised the bailiffs for their work this morning and said she hoped the police operation would go smoothly.
2.15pm: Civic Passion leader Wong Yeung-tat was arrested about an hour ago, according to the Passion Times Facebook page. “He was accused of involving 59 cases of illegal gatherings. He is now being taken to Sham Shui Po Police Station,” the message said.
A police source confirmed the arrest but no further information was available.
2.05pm: A policeman on a stepladder is issuing a second warning to protesters, urging them to leave.
“Police are going to reopen Harcourt Road,” he says. “Do not assault or resist police officers. Otherwise police will use reasonable force and make arrests if necessary.”
Hundreds of protesters remain within the zone the police will attempt to clear.
1.50pm: Two church pastors are at the site to offer counselling to protesters who feel they need to talk. They’ve visited the scene for the past two months.
“These two months some protesters have come to me saying they are shocked by the violence and have been feeling depressed. They feel they can’t get anything from the government, they’re very frustrated,” said Y Choi.
“We haven’t been approached by students this morning – there’s been no violence. It’s been peaceful so far. We feel a bit idle. It seems under control. People had all of last night to prepare their feelings of leaving this place.” said her colleague Phyllis Luk,
1.30pm: Police warn that arrests are imminent if occupiers do not leave the protest site. Senior Superintendent Patrick Kwok Pak-chung gave demonstrators 30 minutes to leave the site before it would be cordoned off. Anyone left inside will be arrested, he said, adding that includes those sitting in Tim Wa Avenue.
Those voluntarily leaving after the time limit will have to present their identities to officers and may face future prosecution, he warned.
Watch: Occupy protesters await arrest as Admiralty clearance begins
1.20pm: Some office workers seized their last chance to picnic on the occupied thoroughfare.
Among them was a financial firm employee who wished to be identified only by his surname Kan.
“They [police] have yet to cordon off this area so I suppose it’s safe to come down here for the last time,” he said while munching on his sandwich.
“I feel I’ve been silent for too long before this [Occupy]. I can’t allow myself to be absent from this movement since it’ll definitely have a much more far-reaching impact than anything we’ve seen in the past.”
1.10pm: Solicitor Paul Tse, who represents the bus firm that sought the injunction to have the roads cleared, tells bailiffs he is satisfied with the operation this morning. He held a quick press conference on Connaught Road Central, in front of City Hall, explaining that the barricade blocking half of the eastbound lanes on Connaught Road was left alone on purpose.
“One barricade is outside the injunction area, so to avoid any conflict, we’ll leave it for another department to deal with,” he said. “Today was relatively smooth. There were a lot of reporters who were rather excited at the beginning so it took us a while to get started.”
12.30pm: A banner reading “It’s just the beginning” has been pulled down by clean-up crews. Photographers and TV crews were warned to stay back so they didn’t get hit by poles.
Noon: Throughout the Occupy protest one voice has remained constant – that of Harry, the SCMP’s cartoonist. We’ve put together all Harry’s Occupy-related cartoons in one album. Click here to see the gallery in full.
11.50am: Some are pleased the Admiralty site is being cleared.
Caroline Kline from Vancouver, here visiting family, was getting her roots done in a salon in the Bank of America Tower as the site was being cleared.
“Regular people can’t get in and out of the the area, and especially old people are affected. I waited one-and-a-half hours to get a taxi with my mother last week.
“To begin with we were very supportive, my sister brought food for the protesters and we were very proud of how well they behaved they were. No cars were upturned, there were no fires – not like in Vancouver when there was a real riot after the local hockey team lost a match. It was unbelievable what happened to that city. It’s been very different here. I do support the students, but enough is enough – I don’t know how it’s lasted this long.”
Businesses in the Bank of America tower have complained about a shortfall of customers since Occupy began. The owner of the Calina salon said revenues had fallen 25 per cent since the protests started.
11.15am: The 11am deadline set by police for the removal of protesters has passed and clean-up crews have removed all barriers on the City Hall side of Connaught Road, stacking them up to be taken away. Broken umbrellas are a poignant symbol of the movement. There has been no resistance thus far and no arrests.
10.55am: Singer Denise Ho has joined the sit-in near to the clearance area.
I’ll wait to be arrested. There’s not much of a plan – just sit here,” she said. “But this is part of my responsibility as an adult of celebrity, to fill the responsibility of civil disobedience.”
10.50am: In Causeway Bay about 20 occupiers remain. Some expect their numbers to be boosted by those moved on from Admiralty.
“Last night we started to move some important resources away from the occupied area,” said Limbo Kong, a 21-year-old occupier who spent the night at the site. While he refused to reveal what sorts of resources have been removed, a first aid volunteer said some medical supplies had been moved to a safe spot nearby.
“We are afraid of any loss of supplies. I heard that there were some first aid stations asked to leave in two minutes by the police,” said Titus So.
Ron Hung said he would take the clearance “naturally”. However, he said he was not prepared to be arrested. “I will not wait for the police to arrest me. My motto is ‘no injury, no arrest’,” said Hung.
10.40am: Piece by piece the barricades are being dismantled and all is peaceful at the moment. It’s a laborious task, with dozens of workers using cutters to separate the barriers, which are held together with tape, cable ties and even bicycle locks.
10.30am: The clearance has started. Men wearing hard hats, gloves and orange vests have started snipping away at the thousands of cable ties used to hold metal and plastic barriers together. The workers are surrounded by dozens of journalist and cameramen. the first barriers on Connaught Road have been removed.
League of Social Democrats Leung Kwok-hung has given an emotional speech.
“The government can’t arrest all seven million of us. We have not failed. We have taken Hong Kong’s political progress to a new level,” he said. “In 1989, the Communist Party made use of tanks and machine guns to clear Tiananmen. Today the international community is watching the movement closely and so they cannot do the same thing.”
10.25am: Cleaning crews are being briefed about the clearance and some protesters are busy retrieving artworks that have been displayed in the Occupy zone.
Police watchdog observers Eric Cheung Tat-ming and Christine Fang Meng-sang have been seen strolling around the site. Cheung said all IPCC members would leave the site and return for the meeting in Wan Chai which starts at 3.45pm if there was no indication that things would turn ugly.
There are now some 70 people sitting at the junction of Tim Wa Avenue and Harcourt Road, knowing they are likely to be arrested.
Among them is Cassio Tang Ngo-yin, a year-three engineering student at the City University. “I don’t have any criminal record so I can take this risk,” she said. “A lot of people know about this Occupy movement, but yet they just keep living their lives. I want to do something to wake them up.”
9.50am: About 20 police vans, two trucks carrying cranes and three carrying water tanks are parked outside City Hall, along Connaught Road and Edinburgh Place.
Democratic party founder Martin Lee Chu-ming, sitting with other legislators, said: “They either arrest us or, if not we will surrender ourselves, because I said right from the beginning of the Occupy Central movement that is something I would do. I decided not to join the other three organisers to surrender because the movement had not come to an end. It will come to an end today.”
9.40am: A dozen university academics have arrived at the site in their gowns, saying they will act as observers to monitor any police brutality. “We will stay until the very end if possible,” said Shu Kei (pictured), of the Academy of Performing Arts.
Another dozen members of Hong Kong Shield, formed by more than 50 local cultural figures including Canto-pop singer Denise Ho Wan-see, will also act as observers.
9.30am: Bailiffs and their police and press entourage are approaching Tim Wa Avenue. The flyover is packed with people craning their necks to see what is going on below. Some 10 police officers armed with batons and shields have set up a perimeter behind the bailiffs. One is carrying a warning banner telling people to leave the area, which protesters have seen a lot of in recent weeks.
9.25am: The Federation of Students and Scholarism have made a joint call for those prepared to “stay until the very end” to gather near Tim Wa Avenue.
Alex Chow Yong-kang of HKFS has appealed to those wishing to leave before 11am to gather at the adjacent Tamar Park.
“There are still many occasions for the movement [to regroup] in future,” Chow said, citing examples such as the expected voting for the political reform package at the Legislative Council in March or April, or when senior officials visit the community.
At the intersection of Tim Wa Avenue and Harcourt Road, Apple Daily boss Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and several Democratic Party legislators are sitting in front of a banner calling for democracy.
Civic Party lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching, said: “I’m feeling very traumatised. I understand things would need to come to an end sometime, somehow and it’s happening now. Except it is the end of not just a news story but chapter in history.
“But I’m not saying that it’s this is the end of the campaign or the movement, absolutely not. You’ve seen the little posts and bills saying “we will be back”, but the question is who, when and where? We need to get that organised, orchestrated and we will fight on. I may sound romantic but this is a political awakening and this will not go away for generations to come. So this is our biggest achievement.”
9.20am: Things are starting to happen in Admiralty. Bailiffs, accompanied by a police escort, are telling people on Connaught Road to leave and warning Occupy crowds that all obstacles blocking the road will be cleared away. Police officers, some wearing helmets and carrying shields, are standing next to City Hall.
Police earlier this morning warned that anyone getting in the way of the clearance could be held in contempt of court.
9.10am: A few pictures from the Admiralty site this morning:
8.55am: So what is next for the Occupy movement? Since the clearance of the protest site in Mong Kok, demonstrators in Kowloon have taken to “going shopping”.
But what exactly does this form of spontaneous, leaderless protest involve?
Click here to find out: The game changes – as Occupy sites are cleared, Hong Kong’s democracy protesters go ‘shopping’
8.45am: In a sign that Occupy protesters plan to continue the fight for democracy, the message ‘we will be back’ has popped up across the Admiralty site, painted on banners, scrawled on walls and drawn on the roads.
Several pan democrat lawmakers, including Albert Ho, Emily Lau, Lee Cheuk-Yan are sitting at the intersection of Harcourt Road and Tim Wa Avenue. Jimmy Lai is also present, as is student leader Alex Chow.
Some volunteers are handing out helmets, goggles, masks and first-aid supplies, suggesting that some may resist police efforts.
8.40am: Protesters are largely telling SCMP reporters at the scene that they will leave quietly and not defy the 11am police deadline for them to clear out.
“It’s quite pointless to get ourselves arrested now when we’ve yet to achieve anything,” said a journalism student of Baptist University, surnamed Hui.
“Perhaps it makes sense for the student leaders or public figures to wait to being arrested since police probably dare not be too rough on them. But it won’t be the same for us,” added student protester Mak Kei.
8.10am: Some protesters have left messages for the police and bailiffs, hoping to prick their collective conscience when the clearance begins. Unlike other days, when police would be sitting quietly at their posts on Tim Wa Avenue next to government headquarters, today they are on their feet and alert.
Wong Chak-chong, a 22-year-old student, has been in Admiralty all night, said he was unsure whether he would stay to watch the clearance.
“I’m very frustrated because it seems like once the area is cleared, we’ll be smeared, people will just think we took over the roads and now the whole thing is over, without paying any attention to what we’ve been saying.
“They might just remember us as the rabble who took over roads. I wish someone could tell me how to keep this going. I’m despairing right now.”
8am: Thousands of people visited the Occupy site in Admiralty overnight, to take a last wander along the car-less streets and to take photographs of what will soon be swept away. In a mass operation police are expected this morning to remove barricades, tents and artwork created by the protesters. While there will be tears from some quarters, others will be delighted at the re-opening of the roads.
Demonstrators have so far been unclear as to their next steps, but many overnight said they believed that the movement had already achieved a great deal, in gaining international recognition, forcing the government to start a dialogue and uniting Hongkongers in their determination for true democracy.
REPORTING TEAM: Samuel Chan, Danny Lee, Alan Yu, Phila Siu, Emily Tsang, Elizabeth Cheung, Jennifer Ngo